62% in Mass. in favor of U.S. history MCAS testing

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The majority of Massachusetts residents are in favor of instituting a U.S. History MCAS testing requirement for high school graduation, according to a Pioneer Institute poll released Wednesday.

“State residents know that suspending the history graduation requirement has relegated history and social studies to second-class status in the Commonwealth’s public schools,” argued Pioneer’s Director of School Reform Jamie Gass.

The poll, conducted by the Emerson College Polling Center using a sample of 1,000 residents, found 62% in favor of instating the requirement.

The U.S. History test, included as a requirement in the Commonwealth’s 1993 Education Reform Act, has been postponed by the state since 2009. Studying American history and civics continues to be a graduation requirement under state law.

DESE also launched a pilot program for an 8th grade civics test in 2018, following the passage of a law boosting civics education, the Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement.

The poll’s finding isn’t new, Gass said.

“Going back 10 years, it’s been approximately 60% support,” Gass said. “I think we are pretty confident that the trend line in polling data that shows pretty broad support in the state to implement the law.”

The poll also found 80 percent of respondents believe Massachusetts public school students should study the “nation’s founding and history.”

Asked to rank Massachusetts schools on a 1-5 scale, with 5 meaning high quality, nearly 70% of respondents ranked schools a 3 or 4. Households without school-aged children submitted higher rankings on average than those with children in school.

Respondents also had a slightly positive leaning on the state as a whole, with 42% saying Massachusetts is headed in the right direction and 32% saying wrong direction.

The poll’s commissioners argued high-stakes testing is key to a thorough history education.

“The reality is the reason why MCAS have been so important — it’s the assurance the same standards and the same test will apply equally to all the students, and policymakers then begin to use that data to help drive improvements and hopefully, bridge achievement gaps,” said Gass. “But without any kind of tests connected with civics and history, you’re flying blind.”

The poll comes as the state education board has reinstated full math, science and English MCAS requirements this school year, after two years of COVID mitigating testing requirements.

The board also voted in August to raise the MCAS score graduation requirements in coming years, to heavy criticism by teacher’s unions and other groups. Critics of the standardized testing have argued the tests disproportionately burden historically marginalized students, preventing 52,000 students from graduating since the requirement was enforced according to state officials.

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